As the Covid 19 lockdown caused me to lose my regular tabletop war games opponent I haven't had much chance recently to play the wonderful GMT games I have. My wife is a great games player but she has no interest in war games, she preferes building, resource, management style games that last 45-90 minutes, so I have had no opposition. I was hoping this was about to change but it seems lockdown is coming again before we can get together again on a regular basis. Therefore I am revisiting some of the great GMT games reviewed on GGO in the past.
Holland ’44 – GMT Games
Holland '44 is a two-player game depicting the Allies’ combined ground and airborne attack in the Netherlands during WWII, which was code named Operation Market-Garden.
The game starts with the airborne landings on September 17th and continues until September 23rd. The Allied player must rush his ground forces forward as fast as possible to relieve his beleaguered airborne divisions and capture a bridge across the Rhine.
Each day has three turns—two daylight turns representing 6 hours each and one night turn representing 12 hours. The total length of the game is 20 turns. A short scenario covering the first critical 10 turns is included.
The scale of the map is 2 kilometers per hex and covers the battlefield from the Belgium border to Arnhem. The map also includes the area where the British 8th Corps fought on the right flank of 30th Corps.
Most units in Holland ‘44 are battalions, but some company size units are included.
Holland '44 uses a system very similar to Ardennes ‘44. It is basically a simple move-fight, I-go then u-go game. If you have played Ardennes ‘44 or Normandy ‘44 you will have no trouble learning the game. Rules such as ZOC Bonds, Determined Defense, Extended Movement, and Traffic Markers all make their reappearance. Due to the terrain of the Netherlands, special attention was given to river crossings, bridge building, and fighting in the flat polder terrain.
A Boardgame Review for Games Gazette by Mike Oliver
I don’t know how many board games there are which cover the Market Garden campaign of World War II but I’m sure there must be a list somewhere. Having played Holland ’44, GMT’s offering on the subject, I can say that the others will have to be pretty good to better it. However, having only played this particular version, I’m not in a position to make comparisons. Also, I have to say now, that the game takes longer than expected and we generally had insufficient time to play the game to a conclusion, although my regular opponent and I each have enough experience and a good understanding as to how the rules work, and the flavour of the game.
I am a great fan of the film “A Bridge Too Far” and felt I get a similar sense of the problems faced by both the Allies and the Germans from this game: “We have to push on to link up the bridges and ensure British 1st Airborne are relieved – we can’t afford delays...”; “Secure the bridges as quickly as possible – keep the enemy off balance…”; “We have to delay the advance at all costs – don’t let them through…”; “Blow the bridges and defend the river lines - don’t let them pass…” The pressure comes on from turn one – on both sides – and the game mechanisms ensure the pressure stays on.
GMT Games – USA: $55 Amazon – UK - £45
The game comes packaged in one of GMT’s high quality, robust and attractive boxes. Here is what you get:
Full-size map sheet (22” x 34”)
Map extension section (17” x 22”)
2 sheets counters
2 (identical) Player Aid Cards
1 Set-up Card
1 Rules Book
2 D6 dice
As we have come to expect from GMT, the components are all extremely well-designed, cleanly printed and sharply die-cut so that the counters push out safely without leaving tears or fractions of paper that require nail-scissor precision. The only criticism I have here is that the map sheets are paper and mine are already showing wear along the folds. You will derive considerable benefit by using a Perspex cover during play – it’s a pity GMT didn’t think the $55 price tag warranted a mounted board – the game certainly does.
GGO Note: GMT do now offer a Mounted Board at an additional $30.00 cost.
Generally speaking the rules are pretty clear and cover everything you need in a reasonably quick understandable manner. The nature of play meant, for me and my opponent, that we had to refer fairly frequently to the rule book, but generally found what we wanted with ease.
One example of the care you need to take in reading the rules is with Rule 10.2.1 Command, Control & Formations (Lead Formation). It is essential to put the correct interpretation on the word “Formation”. We, originally and incorrectly, equated it with “Stack” and caused Johnny Frost problems he shouldn’t have had. Fortunately, we realised our mistake in time to correct matters without having to back the game up too much.
The rules themselves take up 25 pages of 39 and there is an Extended Example of Play which we found very useful as preparation for our games. Finally, there is a useful index right at the back.
As I have said, the game mechanisms really do reflect the feel of the conflict. The Germans have the means to delay the advance of 30 Corps but the Allies must not wait to deal with small pockets of the enemy. One of the most useful delaying tactics for the Germans is the use of Zones of Control to produce “ZOC Bonds” which prevent the passage of enemy units through gaps in troop stacks. There are also rules to allow the Allies to push ahead but these have inherent dangers and should be used with care.
The airborne troops – both British and American – also have to get to work without delay to clear enemy pockets and effect river crossings where bridges have been destroyed. The landing of paratroops is by no means without peril. They can become scattered and suffer depletion as the result of adverse dice rolls. Likewise, the destruction of bridges is not guaranteed and the Germans can get/give some nasty surprises from time to time.
The combat rules are odds based but these odds can be affected by a number of conditions, so it is worth studying these to make the most of any opportunities you can identify as you resolve combat.
Overall, I feel that the game is well-balanced and gives both sides a challenge, but the thing I enjoyed most was the impression of authenticity that I was being asked the same questions that the real campaign asked of the commanders at the time.
I’ll mention again that the game is long and you may find a single session is not sufficient time to play to a conclusion. You'll want to play on when you can so that you know whether Johnny Frost gets overwhelmed and whether James Gavin crosses the Waal river when under horrendous fire, though experience says that this is entirely possible, you just need to take the required time to play it out.
We can’t wait to lay out the maps and place the counters for Holland ’44 again as soon as possible. Then I can again recapture the sense and thrill of our first time.
I can thoroughly recommend Holland ’44 to World War II buffs and board wargames players generally; and for those among these groups who are fascinated by Market Garden, find a copy of Holland ’44 and get playing!